SPECIAL REPORT | Using Qantas frequent flyer points to upgrade to premium economy, business class and first class has long been considered one of the best ways to use those points... but with the airline increasing rates from February 2017, do those upgrades still present good value?
For example, after the revised upgrade rates kick in, popular Asian routes to Singapore and Hong Kong will see the difference in points between requesting an upgrade and booking a confirmed business class ticket come down to a mere 10,000 Qantas Points.
So on what routes does a points-based upgrade still make sense, and when are you better off booking a reward seat with your points?
We've crunched the numbers across a range of popular Qantas domestic and international routes to find the answers, and analysed the 'value per point' in each scenario for flights in February 2017.
For outright flight bookings, that's done by comparing the monetary cost of booking a particular flight with the number of frequent flyer points needed to secure the same (less any amounts payable in taxes and fees when making that frequent flyer reward booking).
When it comes to upgrades, we've considered the difference in price between the original fare paid – such as flexible economy – and the cost of buying a ticket in the upgraded cabin, such as business class.
Upgrades on short domestic routes, such as Sydney-Melbourne
The shortest Qantas domestic flights like Sydney-Melbourne are fortunately spared from the upcoming overhaul, with the number of points needed to upgrade from economy to business class remaining as-is.
That allows travellers to extract north of seven cents per point when upgrading from a flexible economy ticket, or a still-impressive six cents per point when using points to move forward from lower-priced economy fares.
Outright business class reward bookings also prove a solid option, while booking an economy flight using points and then using points again to upgrade to business class returns the least value overall.
Upgrades on longer domestic routes, such as Melbourne-Brisbane
Upgrading from a flexible economy ticket remains great value on mid-length domestic flights like Melbourne-Brisbane – also delivering around seven cents per point in value – with upgrades from lower-priced economy tickets too showing their worth.
Outright business class reward bookings again take the bronze, while using points to upgrade economy flights already booked with points continues to be the worst-value way to fly.
Upgrades on east-west flights, such as Sydney-Perth
Frequent east-west flyers get great value by upgrading flexible economy tickets to business class, with each and every point spent unlocking a whopping 14.5 cents in value – the highest return of any route on the Qantas network, based on the fare prices used in our calculations:
Upgrades from lower-cost economy fares aren't to be sniffed at either, and while they offer half as much value per point, they're being used to upgrade tickets which can cost nearly two thirds less than flexible economy.
Using your points to simply book a business class seat also delivers good value, while booking an economy reward ticket and using points a second time to upgrade still offers a reasonable value per point spent, but while burning through far more points than you really need to.
Upgrading across the Tasman, including Sydney-Auckland
The value of upgrading on trans-Tasman flights drops sharply compared to domestic flights of similar lengths, as the cheapest Sale economy fares aren't eligible for upgrades, while the fare difference between business class and those higher-priced upgradeable economy fares isn't as vast.
Still, upgrading from mid-range Saver economy fares to business class gives the best value per point, while using points to secure a business class seat from the outset proves a close contender.
Surprisingly, both of those options trump upgrading from a flexible economy fare, which only surpasses upgrading points-booked tickets by fractions of a cent.
Upgrades on popular Asia flights, such as Sydney-Singapore
On longer international flights – such as from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Singapore or Hong Kong – upgrading from flexible economy fares is the best way to fly business class while squeezing the most from your hard-earned points:
But upgrading from mid-range economy tickets is no longer the 'sweet spot' it once was, with outright business class reward bookings now delivering a tad more value than when using points to upgrade into the same seat.
Booking an economy class reward ticket and spending a further chunk of points to upgrade it remains a less valuable way to spend your points.
Upgrades on Qantas Airbus A380 flights to Los Angeles
Flying further afield to Los Angeles, the best ways to fly at the pointy end now include upgrading from lower-level business class fares to first class, making an outright first class reward booking and upgrading from flexible economy to business class.
Stuck down the back on a lower-cost economy fare instead? You'll actually want to think twice before upgrading, with points-based upgrades to premium economy now one of the worst ways to spend your points across the Pacific and the same true of premium economy reward bookings.
Upgrading economy reward flights to premium economy also isn't as attractive, so instead, aim to upgrade from economy straight to business class if you have enough points, or even book a business class reward seat if you can.
Upgrades from Sydney and Melbourne to London Heathrow
Provided you can swing it, making a first class reward booking or an upgrade from flexible business class to first class remains great value.
Jumping forward from from flexible economy to business class is also one of the better ways to go, as is using your points to book business class outright, to upgrade from premium economy to business class and to upgrade from mid-range economy to business class.
Outright premium economy bookings and upgrades here from economy again lag in the value stakes, as does upgrading lower-level business class fares to first class.
However, using those 24,000 points to swap an economy ticket for a premium economy seat right through to London means you're only parting with 1,000 points an hour on that much more comfortable journey: so while the monetary 'value' may be limited, many travellers will still find great worth overall.
In all cases, we've calculated the cash value per point based on the cost of Qantas commercial fares for travel in February 2017, with the 'value' of upgrades being the difference in fare price between one class and category of service (e.g. flexible economy) and a higher class (e.g. business class), divided by the number of points needed for that upgrade.
In establishing the value of outright reward bookings, we've assessed the number of points required to make that booking against the one-way cash price of the same travel class on domestic and trans-Tasman routes, and against 50% of the return ticket cost in that same travel class on longer international routes.
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